Can Healthcare Design Help Tackle Obesity?
I’ve written about bariatric design for healthcare facilities and what are the right considerations to make so that all patient populations have a welcoming and comfortable experience at a facility. But this morning, as I was drinking my coffee and going through my emails, a news release caught my eye with the headline, “Can designers and architects solve Britain’s obesity problems?”
Typically, the problem of overweight and obesity has been addressed from the angle of better nutrition, access to physical activity, and lifestyle changes—not design.
The release was from Design Council, a U.K.-based group that launched a campaign earlier this year called Active by Design to lobby decision-makers, architects, and designers on how they can shape neighborhoods and buildings to encourage physically active lifestyles.
According to the group’s research, just 21 percent of children in the U.K. now play outside, compared with 71 percent for their parents’ generation. Among adults, they found that just a quarter of Britons walk less than nine minutes a day. That physical inactivity, the group states, is costing the NHS $1.4 million (£900m) per year.
But we know this isn’t a problem just for those living across the pond. Earlier this month, the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that showed rates of adult obesity increased in six U.S. states and fell in none last year. In 20 states in the U.S., at least 30 percent of adults are obese, according to the groups’ analysis on federal government data.
So for all this awareness and focus on eating better and getting 60 minutes of activity a day, the obesity issue persists.
The Design Council is looking to help curb this problem by designing and adapting urban environments to encourage daily physical activity. They cite New York’s High Line and bicycle sharing programs in Barcelona and Buenos Aires as places that make “physical activities such as outdoor play, walking, running and cycling more accessible, attractive, and safe.”
Adjusting that viewpoint a little broader, I wonder can healthcare design also play a role here?
With the transition to a more integrated focus on preventative care and wellness, healthcare is already turning the ship, so to speak, and approaching health more proactively rather than reactively.
A number of healthcare organizations have already shown commitment with new facilities that offer more attractive and accessible stairs that encourage you to walk a few flights rather than wait for the elevator. Campus walking paths and gardens are becoming commonplace. There’s more talk about making healthcare campuses part of the community, rather than places to enter only when you are sick.
So if these ideas are becoming the norm, where is our industry’s next great idea? How can healthcare design take the next step in fostering physical activity and healthier lifestyles for all? What can designers, architects, and owners start designing today to help eliminate this issue from tomorrow?